(STACKER) – Since NASA’s inception in 1958, astronauts have landed on the moon; parked rovers on Mars; discovered thousands of exoplanets—planets that orbit stars outside of this solar system; and launched a space telescope so powerful it can capture detailed views of Neptune’s rings. Scientists can explore the 95% of invisible space comprised of dark energy, dark matter, and dark radiation.
The size of the universe is hard to fathom, and it’s expanding even faster than scientists originally thought. While humans will likely never map out the entirety of space, that doesn’t stop them from exploring it.
In honor of World Space Week, Stacker compiled a list of 28 mind-blowing space discoveries based on news archives and reports from NASA. Keep reading to see what scientists have uncovered—from a super-Earth and sun twins to the first photograph of a black hole.
Super-Earth – An exoplanet with a mass almost three times that of Earth was discovered in 2017 by A. Suárez Mascareño and her team with the HARPS-N spectrograph on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo off the coast of Spain.
Ice volcanoes – NASA’s Dawn mission in 2015 found a single volcano-esque mountain near the equator of the dwarf planet Ceres. NASA reported that the mountain, named Ahuna Mons, likely formed as a cryovolcano that releases frigid, salty water
Potentially habitable planets – In 2017, an exoplanet about the size of Earth, Ross 128b, was discovered by Xavier Bonfils of the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble and the University of Grenoble Alpes in France. This could be the closest planet to our solar system that is potentially habitable.
Liquid-filled canyons on Titan – In 2013, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft found deep canyons about a half-mile wide on Saturn’s moon Titan. These Grand Canyon-like formations are filled with liquid hydrocarbon.
Ultramassive black holes – Black holes are invisible parts of space created when a star dies. Their gravitational pull is so strong, they engulf both matter and light. NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope recently found “ultramassive” black holes that are 10 times larger than originally thought and are growing faster than the stars in their respective galaxies.
Collision of neutron stars – Scientists captured two neutron stars crashing into each other in 2017. The discovery revealed that these high-powered impacts not only produce gravitational waves that cause a ripple in space-time, but they result in heavy elements such as gold and platinum.
Tsunamis on Mars – NASA-funded research released in 2016 showed that shorelines located below the surface of Mars were created by two mega-tsunami events.
Alcohol-spewing comet – In 2015, a team of scientists led by Nicolas Biver of the Paris Observatory in France reported that Comet Lovejoy left a trail of ethyl alcohol, the same thing found in booze.
Planet-building clumps – In 2018, planetary scientists reported that they had found evidence for “pebble accretion,” the theory that golf ball-sized clumps of space dust accumulated to create tiny planets called planetesimals during the early stages of planetary formation.
Cosmic microwave background – The cosmic microwave background (CMB), which dates back to about 400,000 years after the Big Bang, shows the heat left behind. Radiation is too cold for humans to see, it is visible on the microwave part of the electromagnetic spectrum. In 2013, scientists used the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite to measure radiation to get the best picture possible.
Possibility of life on Jupiter’s moon – In a study released in 2017, researchers reported evidence of shifting tectonic plates on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, which has a balance of hydrogen and oxygen similar to Earth.
Star-sucking black holes – In 2015, the Assn-15lh tidal disruption event, captured by the All Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae, emitted light that was 20 times brighter than the entire output of the Milky Way. A team of scientists, led by Giorgos Leloudas from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, published a paper in 2016 explaining the explosion wasn’t a supernova, as originally thought, but a dying star that was pulled in by a supermassive spinning black hole.
Sun twins – A study published in 2017 by researchers with the University of California and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory reported that almost all sun-like stars are created with a counterpart, including the one in this solar system.
Ice deposits on Mars – In 2016, an ice layer bigger than New Mexico was discovered on Mars. The layer, which sits somewhere under 3 to 33 feet of soil, is thought to be an accessible spot for future exploration.
The synestia theory – About 4.5 billion years ago, Earth may have been a “synestia,” a short-lived hot mass that can be donut-shaped, according to a 2017 study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.
Water on the moon – NASA discovered water on the sunlit surface of the moon, adding intriguing new information to the mystery of the lunar surface. Scientists found definitive evidence of ice on the moon’s north and south poles in 2018, but the new findings confirm the presence of water molecules.
Supermassive black hole – In 2018, researchers at Australian National University released data on a massive, quickly growing black hole. It is thought to be more than 12 billion years old, larger than 20 billion suns, and growing at a rate previously deemed impossible.
Buckyballs – These spherical, hollow carbon molecules are thought to be the basis of the bands of light in the Milky Way. They get their name from 1930s architect Buckminster Fuller.
Fiery exoplanet – Kepler 78b, which was discovered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers using the Kepler Telescope in 2013, circles its star once every 8.5 hours. The planet could be covered in molten rock because it is about 40 times closer to its star than Mercury is to the sun.
Iron and titanium outside the solar system – In 2018, astronomers discovered iron and titanium in a planet outside the solar system for the first time.
Monster galaxy – A team of international scientists mapped out a quickly growing, poorly understood galaxy named COSMOS-AzTEC-1 to find out how it creates stars at a rate 1,000 times faster than the Milky Way.
Oil and gas on Saturn’s moon – In 2017, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft found evidence that Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, has a lot of methane, ethane, and other organic material formed by carbon-containing compounds on its surface.
Magnetic turbulence in space – Scientists working with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft discovered a new magnetic event close to Earth. A process known as magnetic reconnection—which happens wherever charged gases called plasma are present—occurred in a turbulent region of the Earth’s outer atmosphere known as the magnetosheath.
79 moons around Jupiter – In 2017, Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science was on the hunt for a giant planet, but when he and his team used the Victor Blanco Telescope in Chile to peek around Jupiter, they found 12 new moons. That brings the giant planet’s total to 79 moons.
7 Earth-size planets – In 2017, scientists discovered seven Earth-size planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1, a sun only 39 light-years away.
First interstellar object in solar system – Researchers spotted the first interstellar object in the galaxy—nicknamed Oumuamua—with the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. The rotating object was at least the size of a football field, lead researcher Karen Meech, of the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Astronomy, told CNN.
First photograph of a black hole – The first piece of direct visual evidence of a black hole was shared with the world on April 10, 2019. Until this point, many believed black holes were “unseeable.”
CO2 detected in planet outside our solar system – In 2022, the James Webb Space Telescope detected evidence that carbon dioxide exists on a planet outside of our solar system—the first time evidence of the gas has been found on an exoplanet.